Crow Wing River State Water Trail

Crow Wing River

Named for a wing-shaped island at its mouth, this river rises in a chain of 11 lakes in southern Hubbard County and then flows southeast 90 miles before joining the Mississippi River. This is one of the state's best "wilderness" routes for canoeists, with many campsites and undeveloped shores. The river is seldom more than three feet deep, but is nearly always deep enough for canoeing. There are no major rapids. About rapids classes.

Local contact and map

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Hubbard, Wadena, Todd, Cass and Morrison Counties, north central Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Northwest Regional Office: (218) 308-2372.

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River character

The Crow Wing's crystal waters cut a gentle path rarely interrupted by rapids. Although the river is seldom more than three feet deep, it is nearly always deep enough for canoeing.


Much of the river is flanked by thick forests. For its first 20 miles the river cuts through low marshy lands. The river broadens and the banks increase in height as it flows southward. Jack pine forest has all but replaced the virgin white and red pine forests on the sandy plains of northern Wadena County. Hazel, blueberries, sweet fern, bearberry, wintergreen, bracken and reindeer moss provide lush ground cover. The Crow Wing's lower reaches are flanked by a river bottom forest of elm, ash, cottonwood, box elder, oak, basswood, maple, willow and aspen. Grasslands, bogs and swamps are scattered throughout the river corridor.

Fish and wildlife

Because of its sandy bottom, limited cover and dearth of deep pools, the Crow Wing is not a good game fish river. Northern redhorse and white sucker, both rough fish, are the river's most common species.

The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Go to the Fish Consumption Advisory Page to find out more.

The diversity of vegetation along the river supports a wide variety of wildlife. Canoeists may see turtles, otters, muskrats, beavers, mink, raccoons, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbit. Bobcats and a small number of black bears also inhabit the river area. Eagles and great blue herons are fairly common as well.

Game species include white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and various waterfowl. The Crow Wing supports only a limited number of waterfowl because of sparse aquatic vegetation and a lack of backwater areas.


The Dakota Indians held the Crow Wing region until the Ojibwe began moving westward into the region in the early 1700s. By the early 1800s the Ojibwe controlled lands west of the Mississippi and north of the Crow Wing. Signs of Indian presence will mark the river corridor with Indian burial mounds at several sites along the river, including a site at river mile 61.

Fur traders entered the region in the early 1700s. In 1792 the Northwest Company established the Wadena Trading Post on the west bluff of the river at its junction with the Partridge River. There was considerable overland trade in the area by the 1800s. The Old Otter Tail Trail crossed the river near the Wadena post and was the main transportation route between St. Paul and Fort Garry in Winnipeg.

Dense forests near the river made Nimrod an important lumbering center from the 1870s to the early 1900s. By the turn of the century most of the virgin timber had been cleared and the economy came to depend on agriculture.